Thursday, November 28, 2013


Marmots are the larges members of the squirrel family and occasional chewers of boot, backpack strap, hiking pole grips, and radiator hoses.

Something unusual happened a few months ago while I was driving to my parents house after work. I had traveled about 25 miles on the freeway when my brake warning light came on. My car is only a year and a half old so I thought it was odd but probably something minor and didn't worry.  A few minutes later the ABS warning light on. Then the brake system and TRAC system warning lights came on. I grew more concerned and a bit upset at the quality of my car. When I got to my exit I found I had virtually no brakes at all. It took pressing the pedal as hard as I could to get a little grip. The exit was long and there were no other cars so I was able to come to a stop safely. I drove slowly a few more miles to my parents house timing it so I didn't have to stop at the lights and coasting to a near stop before using the parking brake to stop completely. I didn't know what the problem was but I figured I could at least check the brake fluid. When I opened the hood, to my surprise there was a marmot sitting on top of the engine. The strangest part was I knew exactly what had happened. A few weeks earlier I was reading (listening actually) to Neil Peart's book "Roadshow: Landscape with Drums" in which he told of seeing cars at Kings Canyon wrapped in plastic to keep the marmots out because they like to chew on hoses and wiring in cars. The marmot jumped off the car, ran underneath it and back up behind the engine. A man driving by stopped in the middle of the road, rolled down his window and yelled "What the hell was that?"  I replied "A yellow bellied marmot. It just chewed up my brake line."  

I ran to tell my parents to come out and see this. I got a flash light and a stick and tried to poke the marmot thinking it would get out of my car. It just bit onto the stick and played tug-o-war with with me. I then got the hose and a spray nozzle and began blasting it with water. It still would not leave it's hiding spot behind my engine. It was soaked, scared, pretty unhappy and began to chirp. The neighbors came out to see what all the commotion was about. They were snapping pictures and took turns playing tug-o-war with the wet rodent.  

I resorted to calling the local animal control officer to come help. The officer said she gets 2 to 3 calls a month for marmots being in peoples cars. She added they usually just run away when confronted and she didn't know what to do about this angry little critter. So she called another officer who was good with animals. When he arrived and looked over the situation he said there was nothing he could do because he didn't think I would want him to pepper spay it or shoot it since it was in my car. He was right. He said leave it alone and maybe it will run off when there was no one around.  

I drove the car over to a nearby church parking lot where it was quiet and no one was around. I then borrowed my parents car and got some brake fluid. When I came back I wasn't sure if the marmot was there or not but I thought I would drive back to my parents to survey the damage. As I was leaving the parking lot very slowly I felt a bump. I looked in my rear view mirror and saw a wet marmot shuffling across the parking lot and into some bushes. Even though I was mad at the marmot, I felt bad that I ran it over and hoped it wasn't hurt too bad.  

The brake fluid spilled onto the ground as fast as I poured it in. The brake line was split wide open, held together by just a thread. I could see it also chewed up a grounding strap on top of the engine. Fortunately that was all the damage. However, it did cost me $500 to have it towed and repaired and it was in the shop about a week waiting for parts.  

I still can't figure out where I picked up this marmot. It certainly was in my car when I left work that day. I don't believe there are marmots living near where I work. Did it get a ride to work in someone else's car then switch rides? Did it get into my car a day or two earlier and ride around with me without causing any trouble? Guess I'll never know. Now every time I hear a strange noise in the car I wonder if there's a marmot under the hood.  

More from the National Park Service: 

Each spring and early summer, the marmots of Mineral King have been known to dine on rare delicacies. Their fare includes radiator hoses and car wiring! Like bears, jays and ground squirrels, marmots have not only become accustomed to visitors, they have learned that people are a source of food.
In the parking areas some marmots feast on car hoses and wires. They can actually disable a vehicle. On several occasions, marmots have not escaped the engine compartment quickly enough and unsuspecting drivers have given them rides to other parts of the parks; several have ridden as far as southern California!
The whole thing sounds ridiculous, but it's true. If you visit Mineral King, especially during the spring, check under you hood before driving away. Let the rangers know whether or not your vehicle has been damaged. And don't forget, marmots also love to feast on boots, backpack straps, and other salty things such as the grips of hiking poles.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Wave

I started hiking early and got to the Wave when it was still in the shadows.  
It was nice to watch the morning sun spill over the sandstone.  
I was wearing a Buff that said National Geographic on it.  
I just got it, mainly to cover up my hair when camping and I can't shower in the morning.
I was asked by a few hikers if I worked for National Geographic.  I wish.
There was a group of Chinese students that had a GoPro on a remote controlled... well I'll call it a drone.  
They got photos from interesting angles.  Too bad there was some guy wearing 
a National Geographic Buff waving at the camera in their shots.
It's funny how much I can enjoy laying on my belly in wet sand on a chilly morning 
as long as I have my camera in my hands.
 A formation called The Second Wave.
A couple from Germany asked me where to find the Big Mac formation.
I have no idea.  They said it looks just like a Big Mac.
An strange deviation in the patterns of the Wave.  
It's fun to think about the processes that might have form this.  The laying down of sediments, 
pressures turning it to stone, upheaval of the area, wind and water erosion.  
Somewhere in there some kind of geological turbulence bent, cracked and twisted this section.
Leaves floating in a shallow puddle on the way to the Wave.  

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Paria Time Lapse

I tried a few more time lapse videos over the weekend.  Nothing fantastic but I did learn a little or at least found some problems I need to learn how to fix.  I don't like the small size of the videos on this blog.  I uploaded HD quality but it doesn't look so good full screen.  I've got to get this fixed too.  

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Teapot Lake

My alarm woke me up at 4:00 a.m. this morning.  I rolled out of bed, took a few steps then sat down and asked myself “Do I really want to do this?”  I thought I could sleep a few more hours and still do an early morning hike and there was a good chance that the sunrise photo opportunity I was hoping for would turn out to be disappointing.  I thought at least I have a good book to listen to in the car (Neil Peart’s Traveling Music), I want to do a high elevation hike and everything is packed and ready to go.  So I stood up and got ready.  This was the third time in the last two months I’ve driven to Teapot Lake in the dark dodging deer, raccoons and porcupines.  As planned, it was still dark when I got there.  There was a little moon light but I still needed a flash light to find my way around the wet grass and soggy dirt along the edges of the lake.  I immediately had my camera on the tripod and started taking pictures.  

Using 30 second shutter speeds made it look like it was much lighter than it really was.  The sky soon began to grow lighter as the sun was beginning to come around again.  

I had anticipated the mist on the lake.  Last time I was there to try to photograph the Perseid meteor shower there was a little mist rising so I figured it would make for interesting sunrise photos.  

After the sun was up and the best light was over I hiked Bald Mountain which can be seen in the distance in most of these photos.  

I’m glad I didn’t go back to sleep.  If I had I am sure I would have had the kind of Sunday that would be forgotten by Wednesday.  Instead I had the kind of Sunday I will always remember.  

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Window Seat

Window seats are a big deal for me.  When I fly I don’t watch movies or play video games, I look out the window.  

When booking flights I select which side of the plane to sit on based on the flight path and what land marks might be seen, where the sun will be, will there be a sunset or a sunrise, and I try to avoid window seats over the wings.  I can’t always get the window seat I want but I try.  

On my recent trip to England and Tanzania I flew from Salt Lake to Chicago to London.  Then London to Addis Ababa to Kilimanjaro.  Then Kilimanjaro to Mombasa to Addis Ababa to Frankfurt to London to Dallas to Salt Lake.  When I booked these flights I wasn’t able to get a window seat on all flights and was not able to reserve a seat at all on the flights in Africa and out of Frankfurt.  I checked back often online to see if any window seats opened up.  They eventually did.  I tracked down the phone numbers for the airlines in Africa and Germany and called them and reserved window seats.  I had window seats for all 10 flights and I was really looking forward to the flight from Addis Ababa to Frankfurt because it was during the day and I would be flying over Africa and Parts of Europe I had never flown over (the flight to Addis Ababa was during the night so I knew I wouldn’t see much on that one).  

When I boarded the flight from Addis Ababa to Frankfurt there was some confusion about the seats around my row.  The rows were not identified well and none of the passengers could agree on which was row 14, 15 and 16.  Either way someone was sitting in all the window seats and one of them was mine.  So I got the attention of a flight attendant to help straighten things out.  Turns out there was no row 14 on the sides of the plane (though there was in the middle) and the man in 15A (my seat) actually had seat 15C (the isle seat next to me).  Once we had established which was row 15, I said to the young man sitting in 15A “That’s my seat.”  He quickly moved over and I took my seat by the window.  

As we flew out of Ethiopia I watch the green hills transition to the sand of the Sahara Desert.  It was very impressive.  Sand dunes all the way to the horizon.  Usually no signs of water or plants but there was an occasional oasis with a few plants and maybe a little water.  Then we flew over the Nile River where it was very wide.  Not much vegetation along the edges of the river just a blue river running through the orange sand.  

Eventually I got up to use the restroom.  While waiting in line I glanced back towards my seat and saw the man in 15C leaning over my seat to look out the window.  It dawned on me that he probably wanted the window seat and sat there hoping to get it.  He looked up and saw me looking his way and reacted like I caught him doing something wrong.  He quickly sat up straight in his seat and then just turned his head towards the window.  It was then that I notice his T-shirt.  It read “Stop Tribalism - Only One Tribe.”  

I can’t say that I know much about the conflicts and problems in Africa but I am aware that tribalism plays a big role in problems all over the continent.  When I returned to my window seat I turned to him and said “I like your shirt, I like the message.”  He said thanks and told me he designed the shirt.  He didn’t like all the violence in his country, Kenya and wanted to do something about it so he made these shirts.  “He said we are all the same people.  It doesn’t matter where you come from or what color you are, black or white, we are all the same people.  There is only one tribe.”  I agreed.  Then he said “Is that the Sahara?”  I told him it was and we talked about how huge it is and how amazing it is that people have been traveling across it for thousands of years.  From what we could see it was hard to imagine surviving out there for very long.  He told me he had heard stories about the Sahara all his life and this was the first time he had been out of his country (and on an airplane) and really wanted to see the Sahara.  I asked him if he wanted to trade seats.  He politely said he could see fine from his seat.  I told him to let me know anytime he wanted to look out the window.  He could just lean over and we would look out together.  

We continued to talk.  He told me he was a university student and was tired of the violence surrounding an election and wanted to do something about it.  So he designed the t-shirt.  The shirt also had “Stop Tribalism” written in Swahili and on the back it read “PEACE” and “AMANI” which is peace in Swahili.  He didn’t have much money so he and his friends got someone to teach them how to screen print and they made the t-shirts themselves.  As his peace campaign started to grow they got the attention of politicians who criticized them because they believe violence is part of a democratic society.  He could not explain their logic behind that but only noted violence between tribes has been around a long time.  He also got the attention of a German professor and his grad students who were working on a book to promote peace in Kenya.  I believe he helped them with the book.  He was invited to give a lecture to the German Ambassador to Kenya and the media.  He really liked giving the lecture and hopes to find a career that gives him opportunities to give lectures.  

As we talked we watched the orange Sahara abruptly end at the blue Mediterranean Sea.  The German professor is sponsoring him to go to Germany for a month.  He didn’t think he was going to be able to go because he was having a lot of trouble getting a visa.  Just two days earlier he told the professor he couldn’t go.  The professor made a bunch of phone calls and was able to help him get the visa.  He is now working on his masters degree and starting a more formal organization to promote peace.  He has also started an Alcoholics Anonymous Association because alcoholism is a problem.  He tries to make it transparent that he is not making money from his efforts to help others and promote peace.  He believes if he benefits financially from this work people will not believe he is really trying to help.  His critics still attack him claiming his goal is to make money.

We talked about our flight path and how we would be flying over Greece, Bosnia, Italy, the Alps and Austria on our way to Frankfurt.  As we approached Crete I said “We’ve got to get you in this window seat.”  This time there was no polite hesitation, he jumped up and switched me seats.  He was so trilled.  First time flying, first window seat and first time seeing the world at 30,000 feet.  We looked out the window together this time with me leaning over.  His eyes were fixed out the window.  I could see how much that meant to him and how much he appreciated the view.  He pointed out cities, islands and mountains and had me take pictures of them.  We talked about the histories of the places we passed over.  He knew much more history than I did.  He was amazed by all the mountains of the Alps, “So many mountains” and the forests of Germany.  

I was so happy to see someone who really appreciates the opportunity to look out an airplane window at our amazing planet.  And humbled by this energetic young man who is standing up for what he believes, PEACE. 

One of my most memorable flights ever and not because of what I saw out the window.  

Monday, July 29, 2013

Tanzania: Did and Did Not List

I'm back from Tanzania and thought I should post something new.  Here's a Did and Did Not list I made during the flight home.  I threw in a few photos that are not my favorites or best (too tired from jet lag to go through 7000+ photos or do much editing), just a few to show what the trip with The Giving Lens was like.

Did: Get a beautiful orphan girl to smile by showing her a picture of herself.

Did: See Kilimanjaro

Did Not: Take a picture of Kilimanjaro (What?!  I know, I know, I kept waiting for a better view or the right light then clouds, got nothin’.)
Did: Go more than 2 days without a shower.

Did: Introduce myself in Swahili to a class full of kids.
Did Not: Trade my shoes for a Malachite bowl (I tried to but the man insisted on more than my shoes).

Did: Tip our driver with my shoes (The smile on his face was worth more than a Malachite bowl).

Did: See 4 types of wild cats (lions, cheetahs, leopards & serval).
Did Not: See a rhino.

Did: Get entangled in thorns when I went into the bushes to pee.

Did: Sleep in a Maasai boma hut under a boabab tree (2 nights).
Did Not: See a dung beetle rolling a ball of dung.

Did Not: Use the internet for 10 days.

Did: Get bit by a tsetse fly and bed bugs.

Did: Meet a couple with HIV and hungry kids.

Did: Get photography tips from great photographers.

Did Not: Insist or even asked the driver to stop when we saw giraffes in awesome evening light. 
Did: Photograph many beautiful people in Tanzania.

Did Not: Climb Kilimanjaro.

Did: Ride across the Serengeti standing up in the opened top 4 x 4 with the wind and dust blowing in my face trying to soak it all in.

Did Not: Jump out of the open top of a burning safari vehicle (but for a moment it appeared fairly probable that I would). 

Did: Meet people with very few resources who are doing what they can to solve problems and help people in their communities.

Did: Eat goat meat and spleen and drink goat’s blood soup with Maasai men.

Did Not: Drink fresh goat’s blood with the Maasai.

Did: Dance and jump with the Maasai men.

Did: See a lion stalk and charge a gazelle (unsuccessfully).

Did: Sleep under a mosquito net. 

Did Not: Get bit by a mosquito (that I know of).  

Did: Get stung by an African bee (had the stinger in my cheek for almost two days & didn’t realize it until my cheek started swelling).

Did: Drive past Olduvai gorge contemplating being in the area where my species evolved.

Did: Stand on the edge of the Great Rift Valley.

Did: Chop wood with a machete with the Maasai women. (Didn’t carry it back like the women did).  

Did Not: Check In on Facebook from Ngorongoro.

Did Not: Buy a silver bicep bracelet (see David Wilcox’s song “Johnny’s Camero”).

Did: Sit in the Serengeti dirt with Colby Brown taking pictures of the sunset. 

Did Not: Teach Tanzania kids a graphical proof of the Pythagorean theorem (I had a chance but I thought of it too late, from the notes on the chalkboard they were studying geometry and trigonometry).    

Did: Make new friends.

Did Not: See a pangolin (Google it).

Did: Give up my window seat on the plane over the Mediterranean Sea and was happy to do so (more on that later).

Did: Eat rice with junk on it (see Neil Peart’s “The Masked Rider”).

Did Not: Take any Cipro!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Arches at Night

I recently went to Arches National Park to practice time lapse and star trail photograph.  The star trails turned out okay.  There was a full moon so there were not as many stars visible as there would be on a moonless night but the moon lit up the red rocks which I like.  

The time lapse did not turn out as good.  It starts out good but as the sun set the sky turns black.  You can see the full moon rise but it appear pretty small with the wide angle lens.  Obviously I need to figure out how to post videos with better quality.  But I am not pretending to know much about making videos, just have an interest to learn.  

I was hoping there would be a little light left in the sky to silhouette the rocks like the photo below (not the sky's fault, it was how I had the camera setup).  

I've got a lot more to learn about time lapse photography.  Glad I live where I can get to a place like Arches any weekend I like.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bucket Lists

I have seen a number of bucket lists on blogs and profiles.  When I started this blog I thought I would make a bucket list too but I haven’t.  I have a few problems with bucket lists.  I’m not sayin’ bucket lists are bad.  Just sayin’ they may not be for me.  
I know, I know.  I've been there twice already but I really want to go again.
Most of the bucket lists I’ve seen make me a little envious.  What makes me jealous is not what’s on the lists but what’s been checked off the lists.  There are a lot of young travel bloggers (and many more just plain travelers) who are going many great places and doing cool things.  I am shocked to see all the places they’ve been and things they’ve done.  Glad it’s not a competition ‘cause I can’t compete, at least not with them.  I’m sure if I published a list of places I’ve been and things I’ve done many people would be jealous.  I have been fortunate to do the things I’ve done.  Competing with other bucket lists is not what I have a problem with though.  

It’s when people talk of crossing off or checking off someplace  or something that bothers me.  I just can’t do that.  

I’ve heard friends come back from a trip and about all they say is “Well, I can cross Italy off my list.”  
“Don’t you want to go there again?”
“Nope, been there, done that.”

Sorry, I'm not crossing Paris off my list either.

Other’s, when planning where to go won’t even think of visiting someplace they’ve already been even if it includes different activities or even just passing through on the way to somewhere else.  

Now I can appreciate having limited time and money for travel and having to be choosy.  With so many places to go why go to someplace you’ve already been?  ‘Cause it’s an awesome place and I love it, that’s why.  

I know every time I visit a place for the second, third, forth... time there is someplace else I would like to go but never will.  But I’m not playing Travel Bingo or Monopoly.  I’m doing what I love to do, visiting incredible places, and enjoying my life (maybe that’s all I need to put on my bucket list).  

But, what really bothers me is all the things I never see on bucket lists.  Things like:

√  Read Dr. Sues to my kids every night.  
√  Take my parents to the Devils Racetrack in Death Valley.  
√  Stay up all night comforting my sick child.  
√  Train a dog (miss you Koa).  
√  Track desert tortoises with my brother.  
√  Take care of a friend’s yard who is sick with cancer.
√  Snuggle with both my kids in one reclining lawn chair watching the night sky       
    for falling stars until we all fall asleep.  
√  ...

This list could go on and on but what’s crazy is I couldn’t have made this list ahead of time.  These things just happen, they’re not planned.  Only after the fact do I usually realize how lucky I am to have done those things.  And things like these are much more important and rewarding than travel and doing the bucket list stuff.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Western Australian Plants

I find the plants in Australia very interesting.  I'm not a botanist but I do pay attention to the natural world and it's easy to see that plants down under are much different than the plants I'm used to seeing.  

I am a bit disappointed in these photos.  Most were taken in the harsh light of mid day so I knew the photo's weren't going to be great but I also used new lens with a focal length and f-stop that gave a much shallower depth of field than expected.  No excuses, just lessons learned.  


Monday, February 4, 2013

Indifference and the meaning of life

“The finest quality of this stone, these plants and animals, this desert landscape is the indifference manifest to our presence, our absence, our coming, our staying or our going.  Whether we live or die is a matter of absolutely no concern whatsoever to the desert.”  

Edward Abby - Desert Solitaire

Driving through the deserts of Western Australia I was listening to Desert Solitaire when I heard the passage above.  I thought of course the desert is indifferent to us.  The oceans, mountains, forests, winter, summer, rivers, tropics, weather, earth, sun, physics, chemistry are all indifferent to us.  The universe is indifferent to us.  

Then I thought “I feel like I matter.  I feel important.  Don’t we all feel like we are important?  Maybe this feeling that we matter is just an illusion.”  

I began to think about why I feel like I matter.  Look, there are road signs that help direct me to where I want to go.  Someone put them there for me.  Someone had a car waiting for me halfway around the world just so I could drive myself around in Australia.  Someone made all these cool gadgets for me.  Someone cooked me dinner last night and someone wished me “G’day” this morning.  All that makes me feel important.  But it was easy to see through all that.  It wasn’t that I really meant anything to these people.  It was money that really mattered to them.  I was just a means to get money.  It’s just an illusion.  Don’t get me wrong.  Most the people I meet are nice and genuinely friendly and certainly want me to have a good day and many help me without getting anything in return but a smile and a thank you.  But none of them are going to loose any sleep if I don’t have a good day unless I inconvenience them in someway while I’m having a bad day.  I move on, I’m forgotten, they’re indifferent.  

"Alone in the silence, I understand for a moment the dread which many feel in the presence of primeval desert, the unconscious fear which compels them to tame, alter or destroy what they cannot understand, to reduce the wild and prehuman to human dimensions. Anything rather than confront directly the ante-human, that other world which frightens not through danger or hostility but in something far worse - it's implacable indifference."  Edward Abby - Desert Solitaire
I feel like I’m important at work.  I get paid and benefits for starters.  Most of my coworkers are friendly and they help me get my projects done but that’s their job and they will need my help to get their stuff done too.  If I announced I got another job and was leaving they wouldn’t try to get me to stay.  I would not hear from very many after I left, mainly a few who would just contact me to see if I could help them get a job at my new company.  I’d move on, I’d be forgotten, my acquaintances are indifferent.  It’s an illusion. 

I thought about so many things that make me feel important and that I matter but in reality I don’t, not as an individual.  Maybe as a statistic or a dollar but not for who I am.  I won’t go into them all here, the list is too long.  

In among these thoughts I started thinking about how I care about the desert.  The deserts are important to me.  The mountains, oceans, animals, forests, earth are all important to me.  There are so many things I am not indifferent too.  I couldn’t even begin to list all of the things that matter to me, that make a difference to me.  Most of these things don’t care about me.  Most can’t care about anything at all, for example breakfast, my car, my camera, science, clean air, etc.  Some don’t really care about me as an individual, for example the Dallas Cowboys, Neil Young, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Ami Vitale and even those I have helped through the charities I support.  None of them are going to call me to see how I am doing or send me a Christmas card (well, I have gotten Christmas cards from the Dallas Cowboys).  I know these are caring people and they are not indifferent to their fans and supporters.  But they care about their fans collectively not individually.  So even most people that I care about are indifferent to me.  
I saw this blue-tongue lizard in the road and stopped to move it away from traffic.  I do that for all reptiles I see on the road.  I care about them.  
I'm not indifferent to the desert.  

What about all the beings and things that matter to me but are indifferent to me?  They’re still matter to me.  They add enjoyment, adventure, knowledge, thrills, challenges and excitement to my life.  They’re part of me, maybe that’s why they’re important to me even though they don’t care about me. 

That brought me around to those that do care about me, that I do matter to, who are not indifferent to me.  My kids, my parents and the rest of my close family care about me and that’s not an illusion.  I love them and care about them too.  They matter to me.  My close friends care about me.  My cats and the dogs I’ve had aren’t indifferent to me and they treat me special.  

So in all the universe there are only a few beings that aren’t indifferent to me, everything else is.  Same is true for them, only a few beings in all the world aren’t indifferent to them.  Our solar system and the rest of the universe are indifferent to our small insignificant planet.  Things that are not indifferent to me are quite unique and rare in the universe.   

I don’t believe the universe has a meaning of life and it’s our job to find it.  Life just is, it’s part of the possibilities of this universe given the physics that operate here.  When conditions are right, life happens and evolves.  If we want a meaning to our lives each of us will have to figure it out for ourselves.  

Seeing through the illusion of being important humbled me a bit.  I’m not as important as I feel.  It also helped clarify the meaning of my life.  There are very few beings that I matter to and they are what matter most to me.  I better keep them close, take care of them, make sure they know I love them and make sure they know I’m not indifferent to them.  The desert and the universe are indifferent to them, they need to know they matter to me.  

In an indifferent universe maybe the greatest gift I can give anything is to show that I am not indifferent.  

There is much more I wanted to say in this post but truncated many of my thoughts to keep from wandering off on too many tangents.  So some of the ideas seem incomplete and a little cold to me.  I would liked to have gone on in more depth and to explore more thoughts but it would probably be of little interest to anyone but me.  For example, my mother used to tell me "Don't cry over things that can't cry over you." Another way to say don't care too much about things that can't care about you?  Maybe a good rule of thumb but are there exceptions?